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After a visit to the then newly-opened La Loca Maria in Bandra in 2019, this reviewer had written a long post on social media urging people to drop in. Three years later, Chef Manuel Olveira and his wife Mickee Tuljapurkar’s labour of love has relocated to a larger space at Pali Hill.
While the diner has grown from a 24-seater to 75-seater, the setting is still intimate, and the Spanish and Mediterranean dishes just as exquisite. At the same time, it is all cranked up a few notches.
Gambas Al Ajillo Gambas Al Ajillo
The chef and his wife had a vision for a restaurant that was not explicitly Spanish but an interpretation of Spanish architecture. Their interior designer, Minal Chopra, had visited Spain earlier, which proved to be an added advantage when it came to explaining their vision to her. “After speaking to Chef Manuel and Mickee, we decided to use influences from Chef Manuel’s home, the UNESCO heritage city of Toledo in Spain,” Chopra explains.
The colour palette – beige, greens, whites and browns -was inspired by old-town Toledo. As were the natural stone-clad arches showcasing murals of Spanish culture and life, the beige textured walls and décor features like ornate mirrors, tapestry-clad bar façade, and wrought-iron grills.
The tapestry-clad bar The tapestry-clad bar
Just like at its previous location, the first thing that you notice as you enter the restaurant is Chef Olveira and his team at work behind the open kitchen. “The Chef had already allocated almost half of the floor space of the restaurant to the kitchen,” Chopra tells us, adding that it was only apt that they showcase the energy of the restaurant through an open buzzing kitchen where the guests could see the culinary action from almost every table.
The second thing that makes you whip out your phone cameras is the stunning chandelier and handmade murals on the dome-shaped ceiling. The art-deco chandelier, Tuljapurkar shares, was the first purchase they made for the restaurant, even before they knew where it would eventually go!
With domes and arches being a big part of Spanish architecture, Chopra connected the natural pillars in the restaurant to create the central dome from which the chandelier casts a soft glow on the hand-painted murals by Zahabiya of Zaworks.
From flamenco dancers to old Spanish guitars, wine casks and octopus – which the Chef specifically wanted – the art and design language that would depict Spanish culture and life were brought to life. The private dining room that can seat 8-10 diners also has an aged hand-painted mural ceiling.
The central dome The central dome
Chef’s choice
Ask the chef how much he contributed to the décor and he points towards the kitchen – “Only there; rest I wasn’t allowed!” – he guffaws, as his wife rolls her eyes and laughingly chides him. “We made the mood board of the place together,” she tells us, adding that she asked him a lot of questions about his childhood in Spain to bring together some of those elements in the restaurant and even dragged him to purchase the upholstery.
Apart from the large, open kitchen which the chef takes all the credit for, it is the wine cellar and the bar that are his favourite parts of the restaurant. “Every good restaurant in Spain has a wall displaying their wines and I wanted one in my restaurant as well. I really like the bar as well,” he says.
Inspired by Spanish style tapas bars, the bar at La Loca Maria is suitable to enjoy a glass or two of one’s favourite beverage together with food on comfortable bar stools. Chopra added in a few high tables so guests had an option to stand, linger and drink like the way to do in Spain.
Balance is key
More than anything else, marrying Spanish cuisine with the Indian palate was of utmost importance for the Chef. “It took me a long time to research to come up with different dishes that would be a balance between flavourful dishes that Indians want without getting away from the Spanish culture,” he adds, pointing to the fact that La Loca Maria is not a typical Spanish restaurant in that sense.
The tapas menu comprises small and large sharing plates – including a smashing Gambas Al Ajillo and Charred Octopus. There are Peruvian dishes such as the Sea Bass Ceviche with avocado and red onions, Spanish-style rice dishes such as the Paella, and Spanish bar bites such as Pinchos (veg, meat and fish skewers) and Cocas (crunchy flat breads). The dessert section includes a lovely, deconstructed Tiramisu – there is enough and more on the menu to showcase different techniques, proteins and presentations.
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